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Berlin or Brussels; a city comparison and tourism travel guide

Both Berlin and Brussels are fantastic cities, but which is better for your city-break or holiday?

We understand your dilemma. There is a wealth of information about both cities, but little stating which is the better destination and more suited for your trip.
This website will provide our unbiased opinions of Brussels and Berlin, and hopefully help you to choose the best city to visit. The article is divided into the following sections, and can be jumped to using the underlined links:
1) Introductions -
2) City scores -
3) Which one should I, friends, or family visit? -
4) When to visit and weather -
5) Who is the city suited for? -
6) The perfect 48hours (with map) -
7) Tourism details (where to stay? airport details?)

Introduction to Berlin and Brussels

Big, bustling, boisterous Berlin. Welcome to the beating heart of modern Germany. A city at once steeped in dark histories and creative culture, it's a place to strut between the ruins of the Berlin Wall seeing subversive graffiti murals, or to sip craft beers within eyeshot of Checkpoint Charlie.

It is all too easy to over-look Brussels as a city break destination, especially considering it is the home of modern European politics. However, there is a surprising amount here to explore and enjoy, and a visit here can end up being one of those unexpected hits that with hindsight, you can’t understand why you hadn’t been before.

Being smaller than many of its European counterparts it is able to offer the perks of a more manageable and friendly atmosphere with fewer crowds, exceptional art galleries, museums and medieval churches abundant around every cobbled street corner. It is also brimming with quirky café charm and home to the highest standard of food you will find anywhere in the world.

High-level summary for Berlin and Brussels

Summary
Which city would I go to? Berlin
Which one would I recommend to my parents? Berlin
Which location for my 19-year-old cousin? Berlin
Which for my food obsessed friend? Berlin
Note: The above comparison does not consider the weather, and assumes travel at the best time of year (which is detailed later in this article)

The following sections compare the two cities and considers; how long to spend in them, when to visit, and provides suggested 48hours in each city (along with an interactive map). The final section is tourism practicalities and includes which airport to fly into, what district to be based in and how best to explore the city. We hope that you find all of this information useful, in planning your next exciting trip.

Destination details

How long to spend in the city?

Brussels is compact city, and as such, you can see all the sights in 1 or 2 days. There is ample to see, but most of it is packed into the historical core.
Walking from the Grote Markt (The Grand Place) in the very middle of the city to the EU Parliament and through the bustling streets of the Stalingrad District hardly takes more than a couple of hours – depending on how many Belgian beers you stop for en route, of course!

With extra time, you could consider outings to places like Waterloo (the battlefield where Wellington defeated Napoleon in 1815) and the handsome medieval city of Bruges.

Berlin is one of those vibrant metropolises that always seems to have something extra up its sleeve. You could easily spend months here and not do everything you want. That's really a result of just how big it is – more than 3.5 million people call it home, and it's the largest city in Germany by a long shot.

That said, a weekend or a three-day break is often ample for a whirlwind tour of the capital's most iconic points of interest. Uber-efficient (no pun intended!) U-Bahn, tram, bus, and train links can help you hop from A to B with ease. But you'll also find that most of the mainstay attractions are close together, woven into the blocks of Mitte, Wedding and hipster East Central.

It's simple: Spring to summer for Berlin. From May to October, the locals of Berlin seem to come out of hibernation. The street-side cafes of Kreuzberg and Prenzlauer Berg get into full swing, with jazz evenings and long lunches fuelled by cold German beer the name of the game. What's more, this is when you'll find the lovely Tiergarten, the Mauer Park, and the Volkspark at their green and vibrant best. Those who prefer cooler days should stick to May and autumn. Those who like daytime highs in the low 30s can come in July and August.

If you prefer exploring European cities with mysterious mists and dustings of snow on the streets, not to mention way fewer tourists around, winter is also a top option. You'll need to wrap up for December, but Berlin will reward with enchanting Christmas markets at the Charlottenburg Palace and on Alexanderplatz.

Brussels gets busiest during the warm months of the summer. Everyone from city breakers flying in on short-haul budget links to Interrail backpackers on a cross-continent grand tour pass through during the main holidays from June and August.
There's a real buzz about the bars of the Grand Place then, with people chatting and snapping selfies all around the UNESCO-tagged streets. Some downsides: Brussels can have heatwaves, and the price of hotels at this time is sure to be peaking.

While winter is probably best avoided unless you're on the hunt for cosy Christmas markets, spring and autumn have their pluses. They're both typically cheaper. There's fewer people around, so you're more likely to score tours of the EU Parliament and whatnot. And everything costs a little less, from hotels to flights deals into town.

One of the great joys of Brussels is just how many facets there is to the city. You're certain to be entertained if you love architecture. The main square alone comes with Gothic, Neo-Gothic, and Renaissance elements.
Then there's all that fabled Belgian food, from the double-cooked chips to the chocolate-topped waffles to the frothy monk-brewed beers you find in the pubs. Add in enthralling tours of important parliament buildings, pretty parks, and some seriously rich galleries, and you've got a destination suited to all sorts.

Of course, some people might not feel right at home, Brussels is urban to the core. Finally, budget seekers could find themselves a little happier elsewhere. Brussels hardly breaks the bank, but it's no penny saver either.

If you're a city slicker with a soft spot for cool cafes (aka the coolest in Europe), great coffee, ethnic eateries, and urban vibes, then Berlin is arguably the place you should be for the rest of your life!

This is the epitome of a metropolis made up of individual neighbourhoods. Each has crafted its own unique character; some are hedonistic, others laid back and easy going, others packed with famous landmarks.
Those who want fresh air can escape to the Tiergarten and the beautiful Spreewald, but those are just supporting acts to the buzz of the downtown. It's not the place to be to attune yourself to nature, relax under the sun, or have swims in the sea.

48hours in Brussels
A whirlwind 48 hours in Brussels can take you from curious statues to modernist structures, regal parklands to beautiful palaces. Of course, there's plenty of time to fit in home-brewed beers and indulgent waffles along the way.

Day 1: The Grand Place is the only real place to begin in Brussels. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is the kernel of the city, and has been since time immemorial. Look to the north end and you can see the elegant façade of the Brussels City Museum. It's housed in the Neo-Gothic Maison du Roi, hosting collections that include masterworks by Flemish painters and the original Manneken Pis statue (more on him later).

On the south flank is the indomitable Brussels Town Hall. Gaze up at its gorgeous medievalist spire and wonder at the carvings of dukes on the portals. The rest of the square is a photographer's dream, with guild houses and pubs and more. Next, the area of Stalingrad calls. Curiously named, it's nonetheless one of the liveliest quarters of Brussels.

It's also where you'll find the famously underwhelming Manneken Pis statue – we won't spoil it with a description! After lunching in one of the taverns there, head east to the acclaimed Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium. It's a must for any culture vultures, what with exhibits that contain works by the likes of Anthony van Dyck, Bruegel, and Rubens. It demands a whole afternoon.

town hall Brussels Grand Place

The town hall on the Grand Place, the main plaza of Brussels

Day 2: Overdosed on art and ready for something completely different? Good, because day two begins at the Espace Léopold. Welcome to the vast European Parliament; the corridors of power for 27 states that range from Romania to Portugal. Tours of the huge debating chamber and the plenary rooms where the decisions are made run daily from 9am.

After an hour inside, you can head for the grand Parc du Cinquantenaire that sits just behind. It's a prime example of Brussels' flamboyant public garden style, hosting the eye-watering Arc du Cinquantenaire, a national symbol of Belgium.

The afternoon sees you hop on trams (a combo of Tram 5 and Tram 6 usually does the trick) to the area of Laeken. This otherwise green a leafy suburb has one major claim to fame: the strange Atomium. You might not believe it, but it was built in 1958. Up top there's a lookout point with panoramas of the whole city.

For the evening, mosey back to the Grand Place and seek out the iconic Delirium Café on the side streets nearby. It's home to a whopping 2,000 variations of Belgian and global beers!

48hours in Berlin
Does the perfect 48 hours in Berlin even exist? With so many museums and vibey neighbourhoods to get through, it's hard to pack the highlights of the German capital into just two days. Still, the Berlin itinerary below gives it a go, offering everything from ancient Greek artefacts to cool pavement drinkeries and more.

Day 1: Morning in Mitte. As its name implies (Mitte = Middle), it's the hub of Berlin. You can settle in for a refined breakfast in the hidden courtyards of the Hackescher Höfe. The area is brimming with independent boutique stores and elegant tearooms. A few steps to the south take you beneath the needle-like Berliner Fernsehturm. A relic of Communist times, it's home to the fastest elevators in the world, while the lookouts at the top have jaw-dropping panoramas of the city (tickets cost €16.50).

A quick people-watching session on bustling Alexanderplatz and then move west to Museum Island. Culture vultures should take their time here. The Pergamonmuseum is a real highlight, with its priceless Assyrian statues and even the blue-tiled gates of Babylon. A pitstop at the nearby German Historical Museum is one for those who want to unravel the tale of the nation, with particular highlights in the collections that chronicle the world wars of the 20th century.

From there, walk down Unter den Linden to encounter the main artery of Mitte. That takes you to the world-famous Brandenburg Gate, which stands next to the glass-domed Reichstag Building. A picnic lunch in the Tiergarten park can be followed by a sobering walk through the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Past that is Checkpoint Charlie – a onetime gateway between East and West Berlin – and then the lively streets of Kreuzberg, with their ramen restaurants, jazz bars, and multicultural kitchens.

Oberbaum Bridge berlin

The mock gothic Oberbaum Bridge connects the eastern and western sides of Berlin and is prominent icon of the city’s unity.

Day 2: If you're lucky enough to escape a hangover courtesy of the Kreuzberg bars, then an early morning start in the area of Friedrichshain is in order. It's brimming with graffiti-scrawled coffee bars and breakfast joints.

On the south side of the district is the striking East Side Gallery. Once a bland concrete section of the Berlin Wall, it's now an artist's homage to the fall of the great divider in 1989. From there, go north to the green lawns of Volkspark Friedrichshain. Chilled and leafy, it's actually the oldest public garden in the capital. And it's got monuments to the Spanish Civil War next to volleyball courts and picnic tables.

Hugging that is the enchanting area of Prenzlauer Berg. This is the perfect place to end your 48 hours. It's not bursting with sights and attractions, but it's got a classic Berliner neighbourhood vibe. If you're unsure where to begin, check out Kulturbrauerei – an all-in-one complex of cinemas, theatres, clubs and beer halls.

Brussels Airport (BRU) and the Charleroi Airport (CRL) combine to offer all sorts of long-haul and short-haul air links into the capital. The cheapest cross-continent flights on Ryanair and the like usually jet into CRL. Transatlantic and premium carriers usually go to BRU.

You can use Brussels City Shuttle to get to Charleroi for as little as €5 each way if booked online and in advance. Meanwhile, direct rail links go to Brussels Airport from Brussels Central, costing €8.60 and taking a little over 20 minutes in total.

In terms of travel safety, Brussels ranks well. Incidents involving tourists are rare, although thefts, bag snatches, and pickpocketing do occur in many of the visitor hotspots.

Try not to walk alone in the city centre after dark, particularly if you've been drinking. Never leave valuable items within sight if you're parking your car. Also always keep one eye on your handbag or wallet when riding the metro.

For hotels, the best area of Brussels is surely the district immediately around the Grand Place. The closest establishments to that UNESCO site typically cost oodles but ooze luxury. A few streets back and you can find affordable local B&Bs with plenty of charm.

Getting around Berlin is a cinch. The capital has a super-efficient and well-linked public network of trams, trains and underground lines. You can purchase tickets at any S-Bahn or U-Bahn station, or at any establishment with a BVG sign. Daily and weekly passes for all public transportation are also available with slight reductions. A new smartphone app allows digital purchasing of tickets (search: FahrInfo Plus). All other tickets must be validated before use.

Violence of any sort in the capital is rare and police can be relied upon. Still, have your wits about you, especially if travelling through Berlin's lesser-known or rougher areas, like the ones bordering Kreuzberg, or the nightlife hubs of Alexanderplatz and Friedrichshain.

When it comes to searching for a hotel, there's a hard choice to be made. There are oodles of neighbourhoods here that are worthy of attention. It's really up to you to decide what you want. Generally speaking: Sightseers can't go wrong in Mitte, Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain are perfect for bar hoppers and foodies, and Neukölln offers something more local.

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